Natural gas weekly outlook (March 23 – 27)

US natural gas futures edged lower on Friday, as market players continued to monitor extended weather forecasts to gauge the strength of demand for the fuel before the end of the winter heating season.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, natural gas for delivery in April dipped 2.7 cents, or 0.96%, to settle at US$2.786 per million British thermal units by close of trade. Meanwhile, the May natural gas contract slumped 2.6 cents, or 0.92%, to close at US$2.803.

Futures were likely to find support at US$2.680 per million British thermal units, the low from March 16, and resistance at US$2.928, the high from March 19.

Updated weather forecasting models for the lower 48 US states released Friday showed that temperatures will remain near-normal over the next two weeks.

Prices are likely to remain vulnerable in the near-term as the coldest part of the winter has effectively passed and below-normal temperatures in March mean less than they do in January and February.

The heating season from November through March is the peak demand period for US gas consumption. Spring usually sees the weakest demand for natural gas in the U.S, as the absence of extreme temperatures curbs demand for heating and air conditioning.

Approximately 49% of US households use natural gas for heating, according to the Energy Department.

On Thursday, natural gas prices lost nearly 4% after government data showed that US natural gas supplies fell less than expected last week.

Natural gas storage in the US fell by 45 billion cubic feet in the week ended March 13, compared to expectations for a decline of 48 billion. Supplies fell by 69 billion in the same week last year, while the five-year average change is a decline of 45 billion cubic feet.

Total US natural gas storage stood at 1.467 trillion cubic feet as of last week, 52.8% above year-ago levels and 13.3% below the five-year average for this time of year.

Last spring, supplies were 55% below the five-year average, indicating producers have made up for most of last winter’s unusually strong demand.

The Energy Information Administration’s next storage report slated for release on March 26 is expected to show a withdrawal of approximately 10 billion cubic feet for the week ending March 20.

Supplies fell by 56 billion in the same week last year, while the five-year average change is a decline of 19 billion cubic feet.

Despite losses on Thursday and Friday, the front-month April natural gas contract rose 8.1 cents, or 2.16%, on the week, as a cold blast hit the US Northeast earlier in the week.

Elsewhere on the Nymex, crude oil for May delivery settled at US$46.57 a barrel by close of trade on Friday, up US$1.73, or 3.71%, on the week.

Meanwhile, heating oil for April delivery advanced 1.24% on the week to settle at US$1.668 per gallon by close of trade Friday.

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